I be jammin’
This is a companion to the piece written a few days back on jam making – here are 10 tips to live bye when learning to make jam… This has come from much trial and error and the learning process continues add your own to the comments of this post to share with others.
First, jam is not just for breakfast. Nor is it for lunch. I’m not a giant fan of all things breakfast and lunch gets better when it resembles dinner – yet I’ve made 14 or 15 different types of jams this year. I have some special jams designed for desert (i.e. peach butterscotch) that would taste awful on toast (or would it?). It is, however, wonderful with ice cream. My cherry jelly is nice on chicken and I can’t keep a jar of Raspberry Jalapeno jam in the house once the brie comes out.
Jarring jam is simply a way of keeping summer’s flavor’s on hold to be used later in the year. The taste of fresh peach is amazing in August – it’s enough to make you cry in February when everything resembling a peach sat in a transport truck for more than 2,000 miles.
My second insistence – it does not take long. I am out of the house 12+ hours during the week and make a batch of jam after work on a week day. I’m usually done in 1.5-2.5 hours. It’s simple and straightforward.
For tip #3, avoid commercially sold pectin such as Certo. Pectin (a structural heteropolysaccharide) is a complex carbohydrate that naturally occurs in fruits, plants and some vegetables. It is pectin which is the magic gelling agent that transforms a fruit “juice” to a jam. If you are making a jam which is primarily fruit based you do not need to add a product like certo (a red pepper jelly may need such commercial products).
I have two problems with adding pectin. The first is that it is an unnecessary step that adds cost and chemical ingredients that you cannot control to your food. One of the pleasures of jarring is the ability to control what you are consuming and allow you to avoid all the “gunk” added to mass produced jams. The second is the taste of CERTO – raw pectin is insanely bitter. By adding commercial pectin you also have to add much more sugar to your jam – as much as two times the amount of sugar compared to not adding an ingredient that exists naturally in the fruit itself!
Tip #4. Use fresh ingredients – as fresh as possible. In some cases this even means pre-ripe. For example, the best blueberry jam comes from blueberries picked while still slightly purple – a few days away from full ripeness.
Tip #5. Know what you are going to do with your jam before jarring. If you plan to give away tasties and jar your jam in 500 ml jars you will have to make a lot of jam to pass it around. I like larger jars for my fridge and small jars for gifts – I prefer to give someone 3 different tastes instead of one large one.
Tip #6. Invest in simple technology – a very few simple tools will make your life easy and pay for themselves in the first season of a moderate jam-maker. There will be articles and reviews later – start with a pressure cooker, some new mason jars, seals and rings, a food funnel, jar racks, jar magnet, jar tongs and a candy thermometer. Rings can be reused, seals cannot. I bought a ridiculously large pressure cooker – the cost of all of my equipment is approximately $200. I created about 100 jars of goodies this year with another $100 or so of ingredients – $3 a jar is a definite payoff already.
Tip #6A. For jams, pressure cookers are not a necessity. For vegetables (that aren’t pickled), they are required – you cannot make heat low-acid foods high enough to safely protect you from bacteria without one without a pressure cooker. Do your research and throw out your Grandma’s unsafe old cooker (same goes for one you bought at a garage sale). The new technology makes these vessels incredibly safe compared to the past and are well worth the investment. I will share more on these later.
Tip #7. Use care – you are going to cook fruit and sugar on the open stove. Splatters hurt. With proper care you will never be burned. Well, almost never.
Tip #8. Clean as you go. Once jam sets from hot to cold on your counter (or in your pot) it becomes tough to clean. Be vigilant, clean often.
Tip #9. Follow a recipe. Some sources say it’s unsafe to invent your own, despite our grandparent’s doing it. Start with others and do your research before deciding if you want to venture to your own inventions. I have made my own as does my Grandmother – that’s not advice, it’s simply my decision.
Tip #10. Lemon juice is an acid that will help kill any potential bacteria in your jam. Despite my dislike for commercial products which use preserves and chemicals, I recommend using bottled lemon juice. Most don’t have a lot of additives and come with a significant advantage – a consistent amount of acidity. Using real lemons does not allow you to control the acidity as every lemon is different and can change the safety and flavor of your food uncontrollably.